The skillset of professional studio musicians in the German popular music recording industry


  • Jan-Peter Herbst University of Huddersfield
  • Tim Albrecht Paderborn University



Among the professional roles in the recording industry, studio musicians have received relatively little academic attention. Who has played on a record and who has developed the rhythms, melodies and fills are secrets that remain hidden behind closed studio doors. Since the little public media available mainly recollects memories of past stars or musical developments from more than twenty years ago, little is known about more recent biographies, individual skills and working practices of average studio musicians from different parts of the world. Against this backdrop, the present study explored the skillset of studio musicians in Germany’s popular music recording industry. The interviewees provided rare insights into their careers, expressed their views on technological developments and depicted their economic realities. With increasing power and affordability of music production resources, new business models for studio musicians were developing along with a change of skills. For a long time, the successful studio musician had incredible playing skills, stylistic flexibility and was an excellent sight-reader. These requirements seem to have shifted; today’s musicians must have a broader skillset and be experts beyond their instruments. A repertoire of ideas and sounds to be offered spontaneously in a recording session are highly valuable next to empathy, social skills and a likeable and humble personality. The musicians must be both unique and flexible to serve a project and compete with the many fellow musicians and programmers of computer instruments.





Herbst, J.-P., & Albrecht, T. (2018). The skillset of professional studio musicians in the German popular music recording industry. Etnomusikologian vuosikirja, 30, 121–153.